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Arizona's Boot Hill Cemetery Filled With Victims Of The Wild West


If you're still looking for a summer vacation destination, have we got a place for you. It's a gravesite. It turns out, there are several Boot Hill graveyards in the West named because many of their inhabitants are said to have died violently with their boots on. And quite a few of these Boot Hill graveyards draw live visitors. None is as famous or as visited as Boot Hill in Tombstone, Ariz. In this encore presentation, NPR's Ted Robbins tells us why.


TED ROBBINS, BYLINE: Tombstone's Boot Hill is a tough-looking place - gravel, mesquite trees and cactus, no lawn. The graves are covered with stones to keep varmints from digging up the bones. Boot Hill was only open from 1878 to 1884. It took just six years to fill up with graves.

DAVE ASKEY: Many of which are unknown.

ROBBINS: Dave Askey, who manages Boot Hill, points out that people back then didn't carry Social Security cards or driver's licenses.

ASKEY: Typically, what would happen when someone died, the mortician would put them on a cooling board in front of his office, and people customarily would walk by for about two days to see if they could identify the body.

ROBBINS: The markers with names on them are a catalog of violent death in the Old West. Killeen, 1880, shot by Frank Leslie; Red River Tom, shot by Ormsby; Marshal Fred White, 1880, shot by Curly Bill; And the unfortunate George Johnson.

ASKEY: Here lies George Johnson, hanged by mistake, 1882. He was right. We was wrong, but we strung him up, and now he's gone. He was stopped. They thought he'd stolen a horse, so they strung him up, and later found out that he had legally purchased it. So there's George.

ROBBINS: The markers are wooden. They fade and decay, so the town of Tombstone replaces them from time to time. It also sells T-shirts, posters and mouse pads of the graveyard's most famous epitaph.

ASKEY: Here lies Lester Moore. Four slugs from a .44. No Les. No More.

ROBBINS: But Les Moore, he's not one of the most notorious inhabitants here.

ASKEY: Well, there's the graves of Billy Clanton, Tom and Frank McLaury that were killed at the gunfight at the O.K. Corral October 26, 1881.


ROBBINS: The gunfight at the O.K. Corral - it's been in dozens of movies and TV shows, from John Ford's "My Darling Clementine" in 1946 through the film "Tombstone" in 1993. It's re-enacted daily near the actual site in town, and it's what brought Steve Napolitan from California to the gunfighters' graves.

STEVE NAPOLITAN: And it's kind of rewarding for me 'cause it's kind of a fulfillment from all the stories and seeing the movies and now seeing the real place.

ROBBINS: Boot Hill is probably the only graveyard selling souvenirs and fudge made on the premises. It also may be the only graveyard with its own Johnny Cash song.


JOHNNY CASH: (Singing) Here lies Lester Moore. Four slugs from a .44. No Les. No More. Out in Arizona, just south of Tucson.

ROBBINS: Ted Robbins, NPR News.


CASH: (Singing) Where tumbleweeds tumble in search of a home. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As supervising editor for Arts and Culture at NPR based at NPR West in Culver City, Ted Robbins plans coverage across NPR shows and online, focusing on TV at a time when there's never been so much content. He thinks "arts and culture" encompasses a lot of human creativity — from traditional museum offerings to popular culture, and out-of-the-way people and events.
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